“One thing I am always proud of is how The Beatles’ songs were so different from each other. Some other artists found a formula and repeated it. When asked what our formula was, John and I said that if we ever found one we would get rid of it immediately.”
— Paul McCartney, 2022
A quickie this month. I simply haven’t had time to put together another multi-part epic. But one is in the works, I promise. A two-parter, maybe three. Probably in early 2023.
Yes, my day job has kept me very busy this autumn, but I have to face the fact that my off-hours have not exactly been dedicated to intellectual pursuits, such as researching and writing for this boondoggle of a website. (I have retired the term “blog” for myself because it smacks so much of a bygone early-2000s era, when a more innocent nation collectively fell in love with LiveJournal, Wonkette, and Juno.) When I get home from work and drop my bulk into my cat-scratched recliner, I am usually so mentally (and at my age, physically) wiped from the day’s work that I just want to stare blearily at something low-stakes until it’s time for roughly twenty minutes of Jeopardy! (skipping the commercials and the contestants’ awkward personal anecdotes). My wife and I compete over Jeopardy! in the most lax, informal manner possible. No one keeps track of points, and if our mouths are full of dinner when a response is required, we use the honor system. “I knew that. You know I knew that, right?”
And there is nothing that represents low-stakes viewing more than YouTube. There is a wide array of YouTube rabbit holes to trip up the shiftless and lazy. My twin go-tos lately have been: 1) Reaction videos. It’s peculiarly satisfying watching some innocent Gen Z’er come unhinged seeing The Exorcist for the first time, or a couple of fellow nerds nerding out (and even getting teary-eyed) over a Star Wars TV show trailer. 2) Relaxing footage of hobbyists painting miniature figurines for tabletop gaming. Mostly Warhammer 40K. The actual playing of Warhammer looks an order of magnitude less fun than painting the figures. (It seems you’re supposed to push them around on a placemat-sized cardboard grid.) If the painter/narrator has a soothing British accent, so much the better.
Which brings me to the most low-stakes YouTube genre of all, if such a thing is possible.
People taking newly-purchased things out of their packaging, and describing the process. That’s it, and that’s all.
I’ve watched dozens.
Opening something new — especially something you’ve been anticipating getting for a long time — is an experience that can only happen once. Lots of folks out there share my opinion that half the fun is the aesthetically-pleasing packaging your new treasure arrives in. It was with great dismay that I finally forced myself to toss nine years’ worth of perfect little Pixel phone boxes. I ordered a cheap, off-brand external BluRay drive for my laptop the other day that came packaged like a tiara from Tiffany’s. (The BluRay drive itself turned out to be a piece of shit, but I wanted to put the box on my shelf.)
Don’t get me started on the sleek, gorgeous, modern-art masterpiece version of a covenant ark that a new laptop arrives in.
Despite my enthusiasm for splitting that shrink wrap and delving into the goods, I don’t think I’d ever bother to do an unboxing video myself, mostly because even that minimal effort seems like a waste of energy, and I doubt I’d come off well on video. My spindly paws are far from manicure-fresh, and like anyone with a soul, I cringe at the sound of my own recorded voice.
So I thought I’d do the next best thing and fill this space with some “unboxing” in pictures and text.
The August 1966 album that was The Beatles’ true masterpiece. For a long time, the following year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was hailed the pinnacle of the Beatles’ output (and as such, pretty much the pinnacle of popular music), but its baroque psychedelic fripperies have become a tad dated and indelibly associated with a specific, love bead-centric era. (Don’t get me wrong, it’s still The Beatles, and therefore essential, but you can almost smell the patchouli seeping out of it.) The more straightforward Revolver, on the other hand, is timeless, and a younger generation of Beatles fans have leap-frogged it ahead of Pepper, judging its merits more objectively without having been around for Pepper’s impact as a cultural phenomenon.
Here’s what I wrote about Revolver in the Idle Time collective’s 2009 book Decades: A Tribute to Our Top 400 Albums of All Time (where it easily sailed, by near unanimous acclamation, to the #1 spot).
“Assured and almost aggressively self-confident, The Beatles took their undisputed mastery of pure songcraft (melody, rhythm, lyricism, etc.) into the studio during their first long break from touring, and delved into a bag of production tricks and techniques that are still being emulated to this day. Varispeed, tape loops, flanging, phasing — all of which can be done in the modern era with the click of a mouse, but in 1966 required a pioneering spirit and a willingness to push the limits of recording at all times. It required thinking way, way outside the box, and altering (sometimes even damaging) microphones, instruments, amps, and four-track tape machines. (Yes, it was all done on four-track!)
Revolver is like a prism — a seamless crystalline whole, but depending on which angle you approach it from, will provide a brilliant, colorful flash of each band member’s personality. John Lennon’s lazy, swirling material (“I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said, She Said”) reflects his own feelings of being adrift and confused early in the post-Beatlemania phase of his life, and his dabbling with the still-legal hallucinogen LSD. The album’s cacaphonous closer “Tomorrow Never Knows” is an attempt to convey the sensation of of an acid trip through pure sound…when he wasn’t tuning in and turning on, Lennon amused himself with satirical character sketches (“Doctor Robert”) that foreshadowed later figures like Mr. Kite and Polythene Pam. Paul McCartney’s songs showcase the skills of a master pop craftsman. “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “For No One” relate the beginning and end of a love affair in heartbreaking detail. The bouncy rhythms and positive vibes of “Good Day Sunshine” and “Got To Get You Into My Life” are the blueprints for Wings and the best of McCartney’s solo career. (Macca Bonus: His fluid, melodic bass-playing anchors the whole album perfectly.) George Harrison’s wry cynicism is our first taste of Revolver, as his stinging “Taxman” kicks off side one with its overdriven guitars and bitter lyrics telling the true-life, nouveau riche tale of losing 90% of your income to Britain’s harsh tax laws. No one wants to hold anyone’s hand here. His “Love You To” kicks off the ‘60s obsession with all things Eastern. The rest of the band sits this one out in favor of an all-Indian instrumental backing, with George singing earnestly of Hindu enlightenment in a thick Liverpudlian accent. And Ringo drums his heart out and sings “Yellow Submarine.” What more could you ask?
What The Beatles finally emerged from the studio with in the summer of ‘66 was the platonic ideal of a Great Album — sublimely-crafted songs that incorporated envelope-pushing experimentalism and stylistic shifts from track to track, and leaving the listener feeling like they’ve had an experience.“
Yes, the prism simile needs work, the band was more active on “Love You To” than I had assumed, and I somehow failed to mention “Eleanor Rigby,” but I still think that’s a pretty decent chunk of musicological expounding by a younger version of the Holy Bee. (Sorry, folks, but the book’s first and only limited print run sold out years ago. It was self-financed by our music collective, and it’s a good thing we didn’t have to pay by the adjective.)
A big trend in classic rock re-issues in the last few years has been “Super Deluxe Editions” — lavish box sets with several CDs and/or vinyl LPs crammed with fully re-mastered mixes, demos, and outtakes, usually accompanied by other collectible material. Late-period Beatles releases (1967’s Pepper through 1970’s Let It Be) have all received the Super Deluxe treatment under the supervision of Giles Martin (son of original Beatles producer George Martin), but no one was sure if such extensive re-mastering would work for the pre-Pepper stuff due to more primitive recording techniques prior to 1967. Luckily, recent technological breakthoughs have allowed Martin to apply his sonic magic to Revolver. (Click here for the audio-geek details.) It remains to be seen if earlier Beatles albums are suitable for Super Deluxe consideration, but I hope at least Rubber Soul gets the works.
Naturally, I clicked the button for the Super Deluxe Revolver as soon as it became available for pre-order. Here’s what arrived the other day:Continue reading